Getting started with growing chilies
Updated: May 28, 2019
Growing chilies. Wow, that's a huge topic to cover. Especially when there's so much that has been already covered elsewhere. There's hardly need to write everything again, so please check out the articles at the end of this post for more information.
We'll focus on covering the basics of getting started here. I'll also share my odd experiment with aeroponic chili growing on a later blog article. So keep on reading!
First of all, the grower needs to make a choice. Whether to grow from seeds or saplings. There's pros and cons involved in the choice.
Pro: just order them online and you will have access to all the different chili plant types. Lots of choices!
Con: you will need to germinate them and wait long for them to grow. Add a month or two time until you can expect fruiting.
Pro: less waiting time, you get started immediately with a plant that can be quite large.
Cons: when you buy from nursery there is less selection. Typical nurseries have few or no chili plants available. Typically they offer only the most common kinds like thai padis. Another concern is plant health and pests. Nurseries use insecticides to keep plants alive until they are sold. They often come with unwanted gift of bugs. Better quarantine new plants until you are sure they don't bring any unwanted guests along.
Personally I always like to get the seeds but that's just me. Some people get full mature plants as donation just by asking around in facebook groups like "superhot chili peppers", "singapore chili growers" and many other ones.
If you decide to go for growing from seeds it's time to talk about how to germinate them. Sounds simple and it is! Just know the basics.
It typically takes 2 to 4 weeks for chili seeds to germinate. Sometimes you can see them starting in a week! This depends on the method and environmental factors.
This is the most typical neglected factor. Chilies like it warm, and their seeds only germinate when temperature is steadily above 25C but below 31C. This range is subject to some variation. But basically you can get a good steady temperature by putting seeds on top of a fridge. Or if you want to invest your money get a seed germination box online (germinator).
Yes, this is obvious. Water is life! The seeds need moisture to germinate. Otherwise nothing will happen! There are many ways to keep them moist below, but key takeaway is that they must not get dry in the middle of the process. Deep soaking in standing water isn't good either, not longer than a day anyway. So, just moist!
From seed to a tiny sapling of 2-3cm size they do not need any light! You can even put them in a black box and they will still get started. But right after first two little leaves appear they will need light. Lots of light! Just don't burn them under direct sun yet. Indirect light will be good for starters.
Germination rate means how many seeds will grow and how many will not. If you have 100 seeds and 92 grow then the rate is 92%. If you get good quality seeds expect a germination rate of 80-90%. In worst case the rate may be as low as zero. I recommend using reputable seed sellers to ensure you get good quality seeds. This will help you to assess how many seeds to put growing. No need to waste them.
Seeds can be germinated in a multitude of ways. I will cover only the most common and tested ones here. Believe me, there are awesome but weird ones out there. Like the floating board method and others!
Ziplock method (also known as germination rate test). This one is simple! You need a small ziplock bag, coffee filter paper (any paper will work actually) and the seeds. Take the coffee filter paper. Put seeds in there in a nice row. Add some moisture so that seeds don't roll around. Slip this inside the ziplock bag. Leave bag open, don't seal it. Mark the chili breed on the bag. Put bag on top of fridge. Come back every few days to check the moisture and progress. When they grow about 2-3cm tall you can move the seedlings to other media carefully. https://www.growveg.com/guides/a-simple-germination-test-for-seeds/ Here's some charapitas, inferno chiles and funny enough... some kiwi seeds in ziplock bags. And yes, this is a nice tip: if your room and window temperature happen to be right you can just hang the bags on the window. As you can see, some inferno chili seeds have started sprouting already! Eventually even the kiwis grew quite nicely with this method!
Rockwool method: get some rockwool cubes first. They are sold in many online shops and plant nurseries. Basically they are little cubes that have a small hole at the top. Put few seeds in each cube. Water the cubes wet and keep the cubes moist by adding a bit of water now and then. Cubes are a really good way to germinate seeds. Typically you will see many seedlings sprouting from each cube soon. This is when you need to be ruthless! Cut down the smallest ones early leaving only one strongest sprout per cube. When sprouts have first pair of leaves you can move cubes to either soil or hydroponic medium. Yes. There is no need to remove the cube! Cube is good. It is inert material that retains lots of moisture and lets nutrients pass through. Totally safe. Here's some seedlings sprouting up in cubes:
Direct soil method: very simple. Get a pot full of potting soil. Water the soil first through. Put some number of seeds on top soil and cover them with about 1cm layer of soil. Lastly carefully moisturise the top soil. Place pot in a warm place. You can put a paper or towel on top of the pot to reduce moisture evaporation. Water the top soil regularly. Test with your finger that the soil does not dry up. Select the strongest individuals to grow. If there are many seedlings move them to grow in their own pots. Only one chili per pot!
There's a widespread misconception that you can't use seeds from frozen chilies because they will be somehow damaged by the freezing. This isn't true. If you froze your peppers you definitely can take the seeds and still get a pretty decent germination rate. Just check out this video. (They also recommend using the ziplock method for germination on this video).
You should now know everything to have any kind of a chili started! Not hard, right!? Now go and get some! 😊🌶💥👌💪🎈